Facebook not-so-secretly records your stalking habits

Summary:Facebook monitors whose profile you visit -- friend, or otherwise. Now it has been discovered, what else can Facebook do with your usage data?

It has long been believed that Facebook employees can access your data -- or at least, have the means to do so, if necessary. Governments are a little more open about this, and actively use social media sites to collect information of persons of interest.

But a lot of mystery surrounds what the California-based social network actually do with your data. One particular area has been discovered, however.

It turns out that Facebook records whose profiles you visit, and ranks them based on scores -- to then deliver the most accurate search results.

Discovered by a startup working on an autocomplete search facility for their upcoming website, they discovered a client-side code script which can be executed within the browser, to display Facebook's 'rankings' from your profile.

Facebook uses a server-side script, loaded when you use the site, called first_degree.php. This acts as a ranking algorithm, likely to be based on those who you interact with, the profiles you visit, who you chat and communicate with and those who you have recently become acquainted with.

The higher the negative number, the more likely the person attached to it will display in Facebook's autocomplete search -- at the top of the window.

While visiting someone else's profile does not affect the global search rankings of Facebook profiles -- so it cannot be 'Google-bombed' -- Facebook only reflects these to the individual user.

As described by the discoverers, there are probably two crucial files -- one that opens your "first degree" friends, and another which loads your "first degree" pages and events. By indexing these results over time, it allows Facebook to deliver seemingly the best user for the search query.

But perhaps more worryingly, this is client-side, making this data available to the computer you are using -- and any malware lurking on it, too.

After trying this out for myself, not only is it relatively accurate, with a few odd exceptions, I was overcome with a sense of violation.

Why is Facebook recording which profiles I visit the most? What other data collection means is Facebook using to 'enhance the experience'?

What is not clear is how Facebook directly uses this information outside of the search function. What is clear, however, is that Facebook is a goldmine of information. Even clicking on someone's profile can alter the algorithm-like functions of the site, to seemingly rank one person higher than the other.

Talk about creepy.

Related content:

Topics: Social Enterprise

About

Zack Whittaker writes for ZDNet, CNET, and CBS News. He is based in New York City.

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